red lights


Safeness played to the edge

J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton - The Road to Escondido
(Reprise / Wea)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Jan. 28, 2007
 J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton

Review by John Halverson

I grew up in an era when people called Eric Clapton God. Imagine how disappointed I've been the last few decades as Clapton has given up the stirring riffs of "Layla" (the original!--not the slow-down version of later years) for something akin to elevator music. Imagine, then, how pleased I was to hear he had cut a CD with the reclusive guitar master J.J. Cale. Opening The Road to Escondido with their hook-song, "Danger" gives one hope that a sell out can buy into good music again.

On that song, the guitar solos of both Clapton and Cale recall the Hendrix and before era where ripping guitar chords, slippery riffs and discordant fire were just finding their way into the string sections of popular music.

On songs like "Danger," Clapton's take-me-to-the-ozone solos take me back to those good old days, but I was even more impressed with the originality of J.J. Cale's work. It has a unique flavor, a bit exotic and much different than Clapton's riffs which have now become mainstays of every garage band in the land. Cale's guitar has just enough air between chords and an almost Island sound that it easily separates itself from Clapton's old school charms.

As for singing, well, there was a reason Clapton was known for his guitar playing and not his singing back in the Derick and the Dominos era. His voice and Cale's, for that matter, are serviceable in the Steve Winwood fashion, but boring when it comes right down to it.

Whenever Cale and Clapton kickoff a song, like "Heads in Georgia" with their flat voices instead of playing their true instruments, the ones they hold in their hands, I have a hard time not hitting the FF button-and man, if you do, as I just did while writing this, you are in for a treat of wonderfully complimentary grooves.

"Missing Person" has it right, starting with them splitting the guitar chords artfully before breaking into on of their "Loggins and Messina-like" vocals.

"When the War is Over" actually gets a bit rowdy, with whoever is doing the singing (how can you tell?) sliding into a nasal Dylan sound that makes the song snap crackle and pop.

My daughter would describe most of The Road to Escondido as nice "chill out" music and, if you listen selectively, you'll catch some zinging guitar sounds that are worth the wait. But for old times sake, give me a broken down college apartment, Barbarella and Steve McQueen posters on the wall, a pipe full of hash burning before me, and "Layla" played over and over again on the record player, burning holes in my heart as I wafted off into Neverland.

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